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on 16 May 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a cookery book, packed full of menus and recipes for almost any kind of gathering carefully divided by season.

It is beautifully presented, the photography is stylish, and there is a wealth of extra material that adds a certain charm.

Those recipes, those ideas, look lovely, and there are a few that I'll try, but there are rather more that I'll simply read and think how good they look.

You see a certain freedom, a certain lifestyle, a certain wealth, is presumed.

Some will find that irksome, but I can accept it. For me is a book to browse, a book to dream with, and maybe, on very particular occasions, a book to cook from.

One for the coffee table, I think ...
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have very little experience of catering for more than about 4 or 5 people at once, but having managed to host 8 people for Christmas lunch last year and more importantly having survived and indeed enjoyed it, I thought that this book might give me ideas to inspire me for feeding larger numbers and it has.

There are some really delicious recipes in this book and you can cook them for large numbers, or you can cook and eat over a number of days. I cooked the Autumnal Panzanella, which is recommended as a contributory part of a picnic spread for 8-10, but I cooked it and served it alongside grilled pork chops and some extra mixed salad leaves for a meal for 4 and it was perfect (my friends instantly requested the recipe!)

I made the sticky date and ginger cake for a pudding night for a group of mums I meet regularly and alongside a scoop of good quality vanilla ice-cream (I used Kelly's), this was termed by all as "simply divine!" I loved the fact that I could make this the night before and then just warm through before my guests arrived, but it appeared to them that I had just finished baking it (when in reality I was busily using those valuable minutes between putting the children to bed and my guests arriving to tidy up the stray toys etc!)

Indeed there are plenty of recipes that allow you to prepare in advance, or which are deceptively easy to prepare/cook. Those that can be made in advance include a lovely pumpkin salsa, which can be made up to three days ahead; the baked white chocolate and rhubarb custards can be made a day or two before your event; the deep and chewy flapjacks to take "glamping" can be kept for up to a week. There are vodka infusion ideas - from rhubarb or pear and cinnamon to the more daring lavender and rosemary - these are great experiments and potential homemade Christmas gifts. I have a strawberry infused vodka, which only needs five day to make and I can't wait to try.

All of this is in keeping with some of the general rules of the book - which are laid out on pages 26 and 27, helping you to keep your head whilst cooking for a crowd - these are good principles and take the fear out of cooking for more people.

There are a number of drink recipes included for a variety of social gatherings (in addition to the previously mentioned vodka infusions) - I am most looking forward to making the boozy hot pear and rum punch for a winter warmer on a cool autumnal/winter's evening and then when the weather warms up again, the non-alcoholic pineapple and ginger fizz or the basil limeade!

Some ideas conveyed in the book are almost impossibly unlikely for me ever to consider, such as the Firepit, but should I ever meet anyone adventurous enough to help, then I have not only two pages of directions of how to build and cook with a firepit (on pages 140-141), but also the perfect stuffed venison recipe to crown it with! (By the way, there are directions to cook this on a Weber-style barbeque or even in a hot oven, which might be more accessible to most of us!)

This book is beautiful to look at, with beautiful photos, with muted colours, a lovely padded hardback book - this would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves food and cooking it!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I already have Alice Hart's book of vegetarian cooking which is crammed full of recipes you want to cook. I was therefore looking forward to her latest offering. Sadly this follow up isn't nearly as appealing as the earlier book. It is undoubtedly pretty - nicely bound, with lots of nostalgic photos, although not necessarily of the finished recipe. There are arty photos of zinc watering cans, a small child eating a piece of watermelon, instructions on how to play beach cricket, a survival kit for camping, a page on rockpooling and, more bizarrely still, a page on clouds. I find this sort of thing rather irritating and rather pretentious.

In essence the book provides twelve menus for a series of what the author describes as 'occasions'. These occasions include a bridal shower, a holiday weekend away, a country wedding, glamping (glamorous camping), a beach cricket barbecue , a firepit night (with instructions on how to build your firepit although frankly I can't see myself ever doing this). Clearly the menus are just as applicable to other occasions or to no occasion at all, and you wouldn't have to use a complete menu.

Much as I like to cook, I really couldn't see myself cooking the weekend away menu. The author quite rightly points out holiday cottages aren't big on equipment such as good knives - but of course you bring your own, together with a decent frying pan, a whisk, a small mandolin, scales and assorted cake tins!! I was left speechless. I am a keen cook but draw the line at carting half the kitchen with me when I go away for the weekend. I read on, and then came across this little gem: "Plan to cook one big lunch and one casual supper. ..... Beyond that, my advice is this: don't get bogged down in shopping, cooking and clearing up for the entire weekend. There will be pubs serving food, chip shops or restaurants. .... Cook a few lovely things but, otherwise, .....get outside, explore, have fun." I am not sure which is worse - the fact that the author feels it necessary to tell her readers that there are pubs which serve food and restaurants, or the advice to have fun.

The real test of a cook book is whether you will actually use it to cook from. In this regard, I just don't see me using the book much, if at all. There are a few recipes that I would probably use, but most of them are for drinks (I can highly recommend the pineapple and ginger fizz from the bridal shower chapter!). The leek, mascarpone & smoked garlic tart is lovely, the black grape jelly with Muscat sabayon is one to try, the autumn panzanella is nice and the blueberry, almond and vanilla choux buns are straightforward and more-ish. There are other recipes that appeal but they call for ingredients which are not readily available to those of us who live out in the sticks and who don't have access to an ethnic shop or Greek deli for example. Normally one of the two Waitrose branches nearest to me will have what I need but not in this case.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book contains 12 full meal menus, 3 for each season and covers a varied range of events, although I am unsure who would necessarily buy a book specifically to create a Vietnamese bridal shower or a beach cricket barbecue event.

However I do like the layout of the book and the handy information section at the beginning of the book - there is a fantastic section entitled seasonality chat - which details when fruits, herbs and vegetables are at their best in the UK and Northern Europe. There is also a double page spread on Equipment and techniques needed to cook for crowds.

The receipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow. There are also beautiful photographs accompanying the recipes but I think that the recipes will not be everyone's cup of tea and I therefore think it will be a recipe book which gathers dust on the kitchen/book shelf.

There are pages within each section with useful hints and tips on how to make your meal even more special: for example in the Vietnamese bridal shower section is a guide of how to use chop.
sticks; in the chic, easy picnic there is a page on cloud types; and in the new years eve supper a page on vodka infusions.

In summary, I would say that the book is a good idea, has nice ideas inside but I can't see myself using it to make any of the recipe/meal ideas included any time soon.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I hadn't read any of Alice Hart's books before and half-expected this cookbook to be another impress-your-friends handbook aimed at the Home Counties hausfrau, thankfully it's a lot more stylish and fun than that. Overall the book, the suggested occasions and the recipes have a relaxed and informal feel although they're built around some unusual flavours, some slightly esoteric ingredients and, as usual, a fair amount of work for the cook. Predictably, creating informal alfresco dining experiences doesn't mean the chef can take the night off and some dishes have quite significant prep' times. If you're a country dweller then also be prepared to go a-hunting and a-gathering in town at your local deli or ethnic food-store as a few of the suggested ingredients might take a bit of sourcing.

The recipes are gathered into complete menus themed for specific, usually seasonal, events - like a Vegetarian Garden Brunch in Spring through to a Firepit Night in late Autumn. Along the way there are various single or double paged sidebars on associated subjects - like different species of apple, cloud formations, wild swimming and building your own firepit. I'm not a big fan of 'personality' cookbooks where the author feels compelled to share uninteresting tidbits about their lives (real or imagined) with you but I actually enjoyed these small diversions. They're all nicely presented and illustrated and add to the overall character of the book without crowding out the actual recipes.

The food itself is nicely photographed and mostly mouth-watering with a good range of tastes catered for - personally I would have liked a few more vegetarian recipes but that's a different book I guess. Mostly the quantities given are designed for groups of 8/10 so you can half the amounts for a family meal quite easily. You could criticise the book for being a bit 'Posh-Rustic' but that's unfair, really it's about delighting your friends and family with superb food in an informal style - even if that informality sometimes belies the effort involved in the kitchen.
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Cooking for a large group is not the same as making a meal for your family - it is an art, particularly if you don't want to be stressing before and possibly during the meal. You might even want to take part in the celebrations instead of being locked in the kitchen.

A book like this can possibly ride to the rescue. In essence twelve complete menus are presented, with something for every season, whether it be a wedding, holiday celebration, a special party or just a lazy summer picnic. Consideration is given to budgetary and dietary restrictions and even what the guests could possibly do when they are not eating and drinking!

This is a beautifully illustrated and designed book. The content is also engaging and informative so it is not a case of "style over substance". Nothing seems to be assumed, whether it is a mini overview of equipment and techniques necessary when cooking for a larger group, food safety or how to structure your preparations. Typical "party food" that seems to be a variation of "rubber chicken", salad and maybe salmon this book certainly isn't! One wonders if it would be considered rude to send a book like this to friends who have indicated that they plan to have a party in the future? One key tip - make sure you look through this book sequentially at least once, otherwise you stand to miss a lot of good information and advice. One might make the mistake of looking at the summary of a menu plan, deciding that you won't try it yet and then skip to the next one. Big mistake!

Fancy a menu suggestion? Here's one: Vegetarian Garden Brunch For 8 (Eggs En Cocotte with Goat Cheese, Tarragon & Tomato; Herb Fougasse & Fig & Mozzarella Pizzas; Toasted Muesli Bowls; Spring Juice Bar; Lemon & Rosemary Tart. Another one? Laid-Back Country Wedding For 20: Sweet Pepper Sausage Rolls; Home-Smoked Trout with Caper Mayonnaise; Squash & Manouri Salad; Summer Grilled Roast Of Lamb; Grilled Artichokes with Almonds; Focaccia Boards; Splendid Strawberry & Vanilla Cake and from the Drinks Station: Basil Limeade; Raspberry Crush; Elderflower Vodka. Hooked yet?

The recipes are incredibly detailed, well written and contain everything you should need. Things that many books tend to forget such as a typical preparation and cooking time have even been included! The only small niggle is that the measures are given only in imperial units. Photographs are abound and you could easily lose yourself for many hours just by browsing through this book if you wish.

Hopefully people will not assume that this book is only suitable for making a complete meal as, of course, individual recipes would equally be suitable for being made in isolation. A great index at the rear will let you dive right in too. It might sound obvious, but when you are browsing a lot of books it can be easy to overlook that a book like this can be a great individual recipe source as well as a great party-planning aid.

Now, we are eagerly waiting volume two! One doesn't know if there is a volume two in the works but there better be!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'll start by saying what a pretty book this is. Hardback with lovely padded covers and a nice size too. It's a lovely book to add to an existing collection and it does have some new and interesting recipes that I'm keen to try out. I'm a sucker for any dish that includes a poached or lightly boiled egg in the photo so Merguez sausages, spiced potatoes and eggs is a definite but there are a few other dishes and drinks that look do-able too.

The only thing that disappoints me really is that a lot of the book is given over to outside dining. The beach, camping, BBQ's, garden parties... I don't do a lot of that. It would be nice to live somewhere that it's possible to do that but my cooking is done inside in the over so some of these recipes I won't be trying out. They sound nice and look easy enough but I'd look mad trying to have a cookout at my local beach.

If you spend a lot of time cooking outdoors this is definitely the book for you.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was not sure if the ideas here could be transferred to slightly different settings or numbers but as I read through the seasons and groupings I found plenty of interest.
I found some wonderful ideas not to mention lovely dishes that will easily reduce to 4 to try out first. I liked the use of fresh local ingredients and certainly many are available from small independent shops so you do not need access to supermarket deli counters all the time.
The book is chunky and padded so feels well loved even when you open it for the first time. The colour pictures are classy and there are plenty of them.
I also agree that this is a coffee table book and I am sure that when a visitor picks this one up they will indeed enjoy all aspects about it.
I donot think you should mark this book down for appearing to be upmarket when actually it is setting a standard that was quite achievable in the past & these recipes can recreate such a charming experience again so enjoy...
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There seem to be a vast number of new cookery books coming out every month, for the most part based around TV chefs, food bloggers, or the recently rediscovered religion of self-sufficency. And very few stand out as offering something original. However I think 'Friends at My Table' achieves that feat, by marrying unusual menus with specific occasions and activities.

For example, you can follow the detailed instructions for building a firepit, then use it to cook such delights as venision with roast pear and port sauce. Or you might make brown butter dabs and potato salad, and bluberry, almond and vanilla choux buns, then take them on a beach picnic, beach cricket rules and rockpool guide included! There's also a fab meze night, with recipes for honey-roast beetroot and carrot salad, stuffed vine leaves, braised calamari, chicken with almonds and couscous, and blood orange ice cream. Which you can follow with one of the indoor party games suggested, such as 'cereal box' or 'famous', and for which full instructions are also provided.

Other quirky inclusions are the wild swimming tips and cloud spotting guides and, in a more practical vein, camping and weekend away inventories. Add to that exquisitely styled food photographs and it all makes for a great book for anyone who wants to attempt some slightly more unusual forms of entertaining.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Every year, as Christmas approaches, publishers release a myriad of cookery books for the suicidal husband/partner/boyfriend to gift to the lady of his choice.

Yep, there's nothing like the excited opening a heavy present from your beloved ... only to discover that it's a cook book.

Forget the fact that you've spent hours every day, for the past several days getting everything prepared for the Christmas meal, and that you have been foisted into a position of having to put up with his mother (*shudder*) and the repetition of her over dinner stories about her poodles impacted bowel; while all the time telling you it's your bad cooking skills, and not her bad table manners, which are to blame for the other guests not consuming the meal.

Oh yes, there's nothing like receiving a recipe book for Christmas! Especially when you discover that it's his mother that picked it out.

Let's be honest, he'll be lucky if he's not wearing the dinner before the end of the day.

This, however, is not the reason for the 3 stars.

When I get a recipe book, I want one which is predominately recipes and not an author's memoir, or a guide to beach cricket old chap (every family I have ever played with have their own variation on general cricket rules), or a rock pool guide (that doesn't warn against allowing any children, or adults, to pick up jelly fish!), and so on.

It is obvious that Alice has a wonderful, if not perfect, life, and it is that which she is shoving in the face of those of us who have her recipe book. Not only that but there is something unpleasant about the way it's been done - almost a thumbing of her nose at us, and it is a discomforting read. That is the problem with these memoir-type recipe books, the writer tends to come over a supercilious and patronising, with the bitter taste of superiority and pomposity.

The book is full of artsy photos, and I'm sure that the photographer is very good, but the arty beach shots, tables in her large garden, sunsets, etc, take priority over the food that this book is supposed to be about.

The recipes are for groups ... well with a title like "friends at my table" you would expect so.

~ Vietnamese Bridal Shower for 8
~ Vegetarian Garden Brunch for 8
~ Holiday Weekend Away for 8 (brunch, lunch and supper)
~ Laid Back Country Wedding for 20 (buffet)
~ Glamping
~ Beach Cricket Barbecue for 6
~ Chic Easy Picnic for 10
~ Harvest Festival Lunch for 8
~ Fire Pit Night for 8-10
~ Help Yourself New Year's Even Supper for 16 (buffet)
~ Cosy Weekend Away for 6 (cosy? 6?)
~ Mezze Night for 12

A total of 70 recipes (including such as Mint Tea) for 187 pages.

It is, I am afraid, more style over substance. Of course there is the inclusion of the dreaded Crème Fraiche (something which I am allergic to) and something which I would have thought had run its course before now. These fads usually do, eventually.

I am a member of a supper club, and I honestly thought it might give me some new ideas, but there are few recipes that I would try.
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